Cork, just inland from Ireland’s southwest coast, is a university city with its centre on an island in the River Lee, connected to the sea by Cork Harbour. The castlelike 1824 Cork City Gaol once held prisoners bound for Australia, and exhibitions relay the building’s history. The hilltop steeple of 18th-century Shandon Church (officially the Church of Saint Anne) is a symbol of the city.
Ireland’s second city is first in every important respect – at least according to the locals, who cheerfully refer to it as the ‘real capital of Ireland’. It’s a liberal, youthful and cosmopolitan place that was badly hit by economic recession but is now busily reinventing itself with spruced-up streets, revitalised stretches of waterfront, and – seemingly – an artisan coffee bar on every corner. There’s a developing hipster scene, but the best of the city is still happily traditional – snug pubs with live-music sessions, restaurants dishing up top-quality local produce, and a genuinely proud welcome from the locals.
The compact city centre is set on an island in the River Lee, surrounded by interesting waterways and packed with grand Georgian avenues, cramped 17th-century alleys and modern masterpieces such as the opera house.
St Patrick’s St runs from St Patrick’s Bridge on the North Channel of the Lee, through the city’s main shopping and commercial area, to the Georgian Grand Parade, which leads to the river’s South Channel. North and south of St Patrick’s St lie the city’s most entertaining quarters: grids of narrow streets crammed with pubs, shops, cafes and restaurants, fed by arguably the best foodie scene in the country.